Senator John Cornyn Argues That High Minority Turnout Is Reason To Support Photo Voter ID

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Senator John Cornyn used to be a reasonable man, but somehow going to Washington, D.C. has turned him into a human GOP blast-fax.

This was on display in a recent op-ed published last Thursday in the Austin American-Statesman and reposted on his website in which our senior senator argued that Texas's photo voter ID law is actually just fine.

Apparently Texas is also a shining beacon on the hill of democracy for making “great strides” to overcome its racist past. Just pay no mind to the endless litigation caused by Republicans' intentionally discriminatory redistricting maps or the photo voter ID scheme Cornyn praises.

More about why Cornyn is so terribly wrong below the jump.Let's just go through the op-ed paragraph by paragraph, shall we?

In June, the Supreme Court held that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. The provision, which determined the states and jurisdictions that would have to ask the Justice Department for permission to implement any voting law, was based on outdated data from the 1960s and '70s. The data came from an era of obscene racial discrimination that bears little resemblance to the reality of today. In the intervening years, Texas and other states have repudiated that sad and unjust era, and made great strides towards voter equality. In today's America, access to voting booths and voting information is broad and not subject to discrimination.

Currently, Texas's redistricting maps from 2011 have been found intentionally discriminatory by a panel of federal judges, who were “persuaded by the totality of the evidence that the plan was enacted with discriminatory intent.” The court found “sufficient evidence to conclude that the Congressional Plan was motivated, at least in part, by discriminatory intent.”

The days of institutionalized racism that necessitated the Voting Rights Act are not gone, John Cornyn. Those same attitudes are alive and well in the Texas legislature. Yes, it may not be as bad in America or Texas as it was in the 1960's but that doesn't mean there isn't still an ongoing effort — by Republicans — to disenfranchise minority voters.

So the question must be asked: Why are President Barack Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, so upset about this decision? The answer is as simple as it is disturbing: partisan politics.

The question must be asked: John Cornyn, himself a former AG, spends a lot of time hounding current United States AG Eric Holder. Is it because Cornyn's a racist, or is it because he's just jealous that he'll never have the chops or the chance to become the nation's top lawyer?

Section 4 determined which states were subject to “preclearance,” a procedure under which Texas – and other covered jurisdictions – had to seek permission for any change to voting law. Until the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 as unconstitutional, Texas needed permission from the Justice Department to implement even a change in a polling place. That arrangement was good for Eric Holder.

It was good for all minority voters in Texas. It was also good for anyone who wants to protect minority voting rights from Republican assault. Ipso facto, it was not good for John Cornyn.

Take voter ID as an example. In 2011, Texas adopted a commonsense voter ID law. It requires voters to present one of a number of approved forms of photo ID at the polling place, just like you have to do to buy beer or get on a plane. The state offers voter ID cards free of charge. And the law allows voters unable to present a valid photo ID to cast a provisional ballot and return within a week with proper identification. It even makes exceptions for people who have a religious objection to being photographed or lost their ID as a result of a recent national disaster.

Cornyn evidently thinks buying beer and flying on planes is a civil right. Show me where that is in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, Senator.

Requiring a photo voter ID will disproportionately impact poor voters. The law was found by a federal court to be likely to lead to “retrogression in the position of racial minorities.” In other words, it would have had a disproportionately negative impact on minority voters.

Why is John Cornyn cheerleading that?

The law is reasonable, and it is popular. Protecting the integrity of the voting process is something that benefits everyone. The Supreme Court has held that voter ID laws are constitutional. But Section 4 subjected Texas to preclearance, giving Holder the ability to block Texas from implementing the law – which he did.

Intentionally retrogressing minority voting rights is not reasonable, though I will admit that yes, it's likely popular within Cornyn's political party. Hell, Republicans keep telling us how much they don't want African-Americans and Latinos to vote.

After the Supreme Court struck down Section 4, the Justice Department wasted no time announcing that it would file a lawsuit in federal court demanding that preclearance be reinstated over Texas under a rarely used provision of the Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department accused the State of Texas of “intentional discrimination” against minority voters.

The DOJ may have accused Texas of “intentional discrimination” but that's mainly because the federal courts keep finding evidence of intentional discrimination and retrogression in Republicans' redistricting maps and voting laws.

That accusation is offensive, has no real basis, and will not stand up in court. It will come as no surprise to Texans that if Section 4 had been updated to rely on current data, Texas would no longer be subject to the preclearance requirement.

And consider the current facts on voter turnout: According to a Census Bureau report, 68.2 percent of registered Hispanic voters in Texas went to the polls in the 2000 general election. By 2012, with an additional 747,000 Hispanic Texans on the electoral roll, the rate had risen to 71.2 percent. Meanwhile, the rate for African-American Texans rose to over 86 percent in the same period – the highest among all racial groups tracked in the Census Bureau report.

I have no idea where he's getting these numbers from.

According to Eric Rodriguez, Vice President of National Council of La Raza, in 2012 in Texas, the Latino turnout rate was 38%. It's possible that Cornyn is conflating 'Hispanic' and 'Latino' rather than looking specifically at non-white Hispanic voters. It's also possible that he's just making stuff up.

If anything, his statistics look like partisan support — nationally, 71% of Latinos voted for Obama. In Texas, Democrats draw a percentage of the vote in the high 80's from African-Americans. So perhaps what Cornyn is really saying here is that if these groups are voting Democratic, he too doesn't want them to vote?

Unfortunately, these facts mean little to a politicized Justice Department bent on inserting itself into the sovereign affairs of Texas. As Texans, we reject the notion that the federal government knows what's best for us. We deserve the freedom to make our own laws and we deserve not to be insulted by a Justice Department committed to scoring cheap political points.

In other words, if Texas wants to pass laws with discriminatory intent, or redistricting schemes that are unconstitutional, or photo voter ID laws that will have a retrogressive effect on minority voters, John Cornyn is A-OK with that, and wants to make sure you know it.  


About Author

Katherine Haenschen

Katherine Haenschen is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas, where she studies political participation on digital media. She previously managed successful candidate, issue, voter registration, and GOTV campaigns in Central Texas. She is also a fan of UCONN women's basketball and breakfast tacos.

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